By deposing Netanyahu, Likud members can refresh a jaded brand

Reality Check: All political lives end in failure

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
After more than 10 consecutive years in power and 13 years overall as the country’s leader, it’s understandable that many in the Likud think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is irreplaceable.
Nevertheless, they are wrong. If they want to see a Likud victory next March, they should put sentiment to one side and vote for Gideon Sa’ar in Thursday’s Likud leadership election.  No one in politics is indestructible. As a British politician once noted: All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.
The career of legendary British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is a case in point. In her decade in power, Thatcher changed the face of the United Kingdom. She truly deregulated the British economy in ways Netanyahu can only dream of, and she destroyed the power of the trades union movement to hold the country to ransom.
Thatcher also launched – and convincingly won – a war in the faraway Falklands Islands, which cemented her status as the “Iron Lady.” Thatcher would never have settled for the stalemate, spattered by regular rocket fire on Israeli towns, which marks Israel’s relations with Hamas after the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza led by Netanyahu.
But none of her many accomplishments could prevent the inevitable erosion in Thatcher’s political standing after so many years in the office. By the time of her third administration, following internal Conservative arguments over Europe and street riots due to proposed changes in property taxes, Britain’s first woman prime minister’s popularity plummeted.
The Conservatives were ruthless. With no looking back, they unceremoniously deposed her as leader, putting the mild-mannered John Major in her place. Major was a nondescript type of politician, certainly lacking the aura of Thatcher. But, and this is the important lesson for Likud voters on Thursday, Major bought the Conservative Party five more years in power, winning a fourth consecutive Conservative election victory, before it inevitably ran out of governing steam, to be replaced by Tony Blair’s New Labour.
UNLIKE PRESIDENTIAL systems, with fixed term limits such as a maximum two four-year terms for an American president or two consecutive five-year terms for a French president, parliamentary democracies have no set boundaries. Perhaps there should be. Back in 1997, in the early days of his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu himself suggested that “a prime minister cannot serve for more than two terms.”
With more than two terms behind him, it is only natural that the 70-year-old veteran prime minister now sees things differently, but Likud members should not allow themselves to be blinded to the cold political facts. As Sa’ar repeatedly and rightly points out, Netanyahu has lost the last two elections, failing to form a government after the polls in April and September.
Although Sa’ar was too respectful to say so, having Netanyahu lead the Likud one more time in March neatly encapsulates the much-quoted definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Instead, Sa’ar restricts himself to noting that Netanyahu’s candidacy is what drives Blue and White voters to the polling booth.
In fact, Netanyahu’s candidacy is what defines Blue and White’s whole existence – to be the anti-Netanyahu vote. One faction of Blue and White, Telem, really belongs inside the Likud. Its leader, Moshe Ya’alon, was a Likud defense minister under Netanyahu. Its Knesset members include Zvi Hauser, who once served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, and Yoaz Hendel, a former director of communications and public diplomacy for the prime minister. Were it not for Netanyahu’s character failings, they would still be Likud supporters and a natural ally of Sa’ar, who describes himself as to the Right of the prime minister.
By deposing Netanyahu on Thursday, Likud members can not only refresh a jaded brand with an untarnished new leader, but they can also severely undermine Blue and White’s foundations. Without the anti-Netanyahu glue binding them, there is little in common between Telem members and Yesh Atid Knesset member Ofer Shelah’s support for an eventual two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: the fact that Netanyahu is the first-ever prime minister to be charged, while still in office, with criminal conduct including bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Likud members rallied around Netanyahu in 2008 when he called on Ehud Olmert to step down, arguing then that a “prime minister who is neck-deep in investigations has no public or moral mandate to make crucial decisions.”
It’s now time for those same Likud members to tell Netanyahu the same thing and send him packing, for the good of both the Likud and the country. Without Netanyahu clogging up the political system, Israel can break the cycle of repeated, indecisive elections.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.